“I am beginning to see a correlation between violating a child's private inner life in the form of catechisms and doctrines that permit no freedom to privately discern important existential truths, and the tacit institutional permission to similarly violate the privacy of the child's body. I'm not trying to be a theologian here, just an angry woman who would like children to be able to come of age unmolested by adults.
If it's part of the Catholic tradition to penetrate children's minds at a young age and demolish their privacy regarding theological reflection and decision-making, can it really be so shocking that penetration and violation of the privacy of their bodies is not far behind?
We must protect children's freedom of religious imagination just as surely as we protect them from physical molesters and exploiters. They are two pieces of the same cloth.”
I have read and spoke to many people about the issues of sexual child abuse by priests and this is the first time I have read or heard of this correlation.
I grew up in a strongly Catholic family and a strongly Catholic community. Much of my sense of self was shaped by those experiences. I was taught by Dominican sisters who were intellectually stimulating and challenging. I asked many questions and although I felt the answer “It is a mystery” was an intellectual cop-out especially when it was given over and over again, I had no doubt as to the sincerity of the vast majority of my teachers and priests. The pastor of our church was an immigrant from Ireland and he clearly held the parish in the palm of his hand. He had enormous power, not only in his parish and in the larger Catholic community, but in the town as well.
Looking back, I can only say that he must have been an inherently good man as I believe our particular parish escaped the abuse that some other parishes experienced. Until Peace Bang’s comments, I felt that was it. Absolute power has the potential to corrupt absolutely but that is not inevitable. There can be such a thing as a benevolent monarch. Of course I still have terrible problems with hierarchy as a form of community organization, because the benevolence of monarchs tends to be the exception rather than the rule, and this is one of the important issues that in the end helped me to extricate myself from Catholic practice.
As I reflect on Peace Bang’s point, however, I discover that intellectually I was free to explore as a child growing up in that community. However, there was an area where I did not feel free to explore. It is difficult to put into words. In one sense it was the area of doctrine, but that doesn’t really explain it. I could for example, intellectually consider the possibility that Mary was not a virgin, but what I could not do was allow myself to BELIEVE that she wasn’t a virgin. To explore with the brain was alright. To change my belief was not. Where does this “belief” reside? I do not know. Perhaps in the heart. So the penetration that Peace Bang speaks of, for me, was not in my mind alone, but in my heart, or perhaps in my mind/heart.
It turns out that it was my mind that helped me to extricate myself from that tyranny. I discovered science fiction as an adolescent. I was able to explore not only thoughts but also emotions through the created worlds of Isaac Asimov and his generation of SF writers. As I worked my way through various worlds and considered various possibilities, I was able to free myself from the power of doctrine. If RPG (role play games) had been available then, they would have probably served as well or better.
In conclusion, I must agree with Peace Bang's correlation. The penetration of doctrine into my mind and heart was a violation of my integrity. This violation was real and powerful and I do think that if one gets used to such a thing and justifies it to oneself, then to claim the privlege of violating the body is not such a stretch. This is perhaps similar to some of the practices of "brainwashing" done on Al Quida recruits or done in "boot camp" to our vulnerable sons and daughters enticed by scholarships and bonuses, or done by terroists holding hostages.